Just like old times: SecDef defying Obama on Gitmo releases?

The Pentagon insists that Ashton Carter supports Barack Obama’s goal to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Earlier today, the Defense Department’s spokesman announced that the military had a plan at the ready for that purpose, and only needed some additional signatures to forward it to Congress. “The Secretary and this department continue to support the president’s goal of closing Guantanamo Bay, and we’re working to make a plan that will do that,” Navy Captain Jeff Davis announced.

The Daily Beast’s Nancy Youssef hears something different from the White House. According to their sources, Carter has delayed approving additional releases of Gitmo detainees, and that Obama and his Secretary of Defense are increasingly at loggerheads on the issue:

The White House believes that Carter is unwilling to be accountable for the transfer of Guantánamo detainees and their conduct post-release, even to the point of defying the president’s policy on the detention facility, a White House source told The Daily Beast. …

But it is Carter’s signature that leads to a detainee’s release. The complaint heard at the Pentagon is Carter and the Defense Department are not moving fast enough for a White House that hopes to have the question of closing the facility answered by the end of its term. So far, Carter has only signed off on a handful of detainees at one time and has waited weeks to act on those cases.

As one defense official explained, Carter “is definitely under pressure… The White House, if it had its way, would like to see more regular signatures.”

There’s even speculation that if the president follows through on his threat to veto the defense budget bill to win changes on detainee policy, he will ask that the law be amended so that the president, not the defense secretary, has the final say on detainee transfers.

Fat chance. Congress put the onus on the SecDef to make sure that the decisions had military as well as political accountability. If Congress assigns that authority to Obama, they may as well go to Guantanamo Bay themselves and open the doors. This President has signed off on a deal that leaves Iran as a nuclear-threshold state while pouring over $100 billion into their coffers without even a pledge to curtail their support for regional terrorism. What’s 116 more terrorists on the loose compared to that?

If Youssef is correct, Carter appears to have caught on as well. Among the reasons that his predecessor Chuck Hagel found himself out of favor around White House circles was his unwillingness to roll the dice on detainee releases. Carter was supposed to be more malleable on that point. As late as this June, Carter at least sung from the same hymnal as the rest of the Obama administration, telling CBS that it would be “nice” to close Gitmo before Obama left office. Even at that time, though, Carter hinted that not all of them would get passes from his office:

Carter also said that not every detainee in Guantanamo can be freed. “[W]e have to be very clear – there are people in Guantanamo Bay who cannot and should not be released because they will return to the terrorist fight,” he said. “And therefore we need a place where we can detain them in the long term. We have been forbidden to create such a place in U.S. territory.”

And that’s not likely to change, either, which leaves Obama in a tough spot. With his opening to Cuba, however, he may have a way to force Congress’ hand on the matter. If he gives the naval base at Guantanamo Bay back to the Castros, Congress will have to find somewhere to put those detainees, no? And of course, our naval assets, but hey, you have to break a few eggs to make the omelet. Second look at “floating Gitmos“?

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